Politics & Government

Mississippi domestic violence bill doomed by 'separation' amendment

ROGELIO V. SOLIS/ASSOCIATED PRESS 
 Sen. Brice Wiggins, R-Pascagoula
ROGELIO V. SOLIS/ASSOCIATED PRESS Sen. Brice Wiggins, R-Pascagoula AP

A bill that would have added domestic violence as grounds for divorce in Mississippi died after House and Senate conferees added a 14th, less-palatable ground to the bill.

The bill sponsored by Sens. Brice Wiggins, R-Pascagoula; Sally Doty, R-Brookhaven; and Jennifer Branning, R-Philadelphia, began with a 13th ground for divorce -- "one or more instances of domestic violence as defined in Section 97-3-7, if established by clear and convincing evidence."

That ground was further modified by an amendment from Reps. Mark Baker, R-Brandon, and Omeria Scott, D-Laurel. That amendment read:

"Domestic Violence: An intentional act where the perpetrator causes serious bodily injury to his spouse or attempts to cause serious bodily injury to his spouse, if established by clear and convincing evidence. 'Serious bodily injury' is defined as bodily injury the involves: (1) a substantial risk of death; (2) extreme physical pain; (3) protracted and obvious disfigurement; and (4) protracted loss or impairment of the function of a body part, organ or mental faculty."

Those changes required the bill to go back to a conference committee, where the 14th ground was added.

That ground would have been: "Willful and continued separation without co-habitation, with the intent not to return or resume or otherwise continue the marital relationship, for not less than two years. Either party may have a divorce based on this cause."

But Wiggins said that didn't sit well with Sen. Angela Turner, D-West Point.

"She argued that people should stay married," he said. Turner moved to recommit the bill to the conference committee, that motion passed and the bill returned to the committee, where it died.

Wiggins said he and Sen. Sean Tindell argued senators should consider real-world circumstances.

"People are stuck in marriages, but in particular children are placed in situations that are not healthy," Wiggins said. "The marriages are there because they can't get out of them. A party will hold the other party hostage for child support or just to be vindictive. The only other option is irreconcilable differences.

"There are some who think you just stay married because it's biblical in nature. And I think what you saw was, and I said this from the floor of the Senate, that may be what you want but what we deal with, myself and people like Sen. Tindell (who both are attorneys), is what we see on a daily basis (in family court cases)."

Still, Turner's motion to recommit passed 26-22.

Wiggins said he plans to introduce a similar bill next year.

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